Awhile back we looked at an ad from Cuisinella in which people were "shot" and then stuck in a coffin. They freak out, and then realize once the coffin is opened that they were taken to a Cuisinella showroom, and tons of people are there to laugh at them for being so stupid for freaking out. Now, there's a European ad from Hyundai that has already been pulled that depicts an attempted suicide. Now, obviously, an ad that gets pulled like this raises my cynicism a notch because, while they take heat for their insensitivity, they still get some pub for their new environmentally-conscious vehicle. Here's some more, I guess. But I would like to dive into this from this angle: why is it too far?
Hyundai's Pulled Ad: Where Did They Go Wrong?
I guess it goes without saying, but this ad contains a depiction of an attempted suicide, so beware (and it could be pulled any moment, too…but the ad is called "Pipe Job" if you want to look for copycats)
[Video was removed from YouTube shortly after this was posted]
If the above ad has been yanked, here's what happens: a man clearly depressed tapes up the cracks in his garage and steps into his vehicle. Really ominous music plays. We see the deadly exhaust pipe and everything that entails. The man sits back, ready to take on death. He closes his eyes…and then there's a shot from outside of the house where we see the lights come on in the garage, the garage door opens, the man is OK. He walks back to the house. The car is amazing in its inability to affect the environment.
Now, we can see what they're going for here: it's an environmentally-conscious vehicle, it's got 100% water emissions, so it doesn't put out the horrible, toxic smoke of other vehicles. Gotcha. And I even think that the idea comes from a deep, dark place that sounds like you can pull it off without being the least bit depressing. While the creators, Innocean Worldwide Europe, were throwing around ideas for this, it probably sounded really funny.
Gallows humor can be funny under the right circumstances. The problem is when everyone forgot that things that sound funny under certain circumstances sometimes have a hard time translating into other certain circumstances. If you detach yourself from the outrage while you watch this, you realize what a depressing ad this is through and through. Nothing funny happens, and when the "punchline" comes, you're either too shocked, angered, or confused to laugh at it.
Even the punchline is handled poorly, because the guy is still clearly depressed and walking back to the house…and he hasn't even learned anything from the experience other than that his car is so good for the environment, he can't complete the task.
But let's look at this from a different angle: what person has just bought an environmentally-safe vehicle such as this and wants to off themselves? And is this the kind of person Hyundai wants to associate with their brand?
I'm the kind of person who isn't easily offended, and this ad didn't bother me much as far as insensitivity goes. But the action in this ad is so specific, an action that in real life has affected so many people's lives, that you can't really pull it off without it hitting home in the wrong way. This blogger, Holly Brockwell, who was affected by such an event, wrote an "open letter" to Hyundai and Innocean about it.
Death is hard to pull off in an ad, and specific actions resulting in it, no matter what they are, can be nearly impossible to convey. It's more than a tricky subject. But in the end, Hyundai sort of gets what they want out of this: they take some heat, but get press (again, I'm contributing to the madness), and the idea is actually conveyed: it's a vehicle that's awesome for the environment. They can then pull the ad and say they "didn't know what they were thinking" but surely they either test-marketed this or someone raised their hand and said, "Ummm…isn't this really, really offensive?"